FORT WORTH -- Demetris Tate spent a week and a half working on a dramatic black graphite drawing of a sailor saluting with the USS Fort Worth in the background for a Fort Worth schools art contest commemorating the Navy's soon-to-be newest warship.
Then Tate, a senior at Dunbar High School in southeast Fort Worth, had to regroup and re-create his piece after a fire destroyed his family's apartment -- and his portfolio -- Sept. 7, just a few days before the contest deadline.
He figures he spent two hours redoing it: Twenty minutes after work the night before deadline, and 10 minutes here and there during various periods the day the drawing was due. His reward: Tate's 9-by-12 drawing won the contest's high school category, earning him a trip to Galveston on Friday where he and three others will be feted. They will also attend the ship's commissioning Saturday morning.
The school district and commissioning committee are paying to bring the winners and their families to Galveston, said Beverly Fletcher, the district's art director.
Since the fire, Tate, his mother, and three siblings have been living apart in the homes of family and friends.
"It still hasn't hit me that my stuff is going," Tate said Wednesday afternoon, ruminating in Dunbar's library. "I guess things happen for a reason."
Minutes later one of the contest's judges surprised him by arriving and taking Tate out to buy a suit.
'A strong desire to win'
"Truly inspirational story," said Fort Worth City Councilman Danny Scarth, who helped organize the contest, which drew 500 entries across the elementary, middle school, and high school categories.
That Tate was a winner wasn't a surprise to the school district's art director.
"He has a strong desire to win," Fletcher said. "Demetris is going to be famous in his future. He's going to be a famous artist. Right now, he's going to be famous in the district."
How long Tate has been at his art isn't clear. He says he's been drawing since he was 3 or 4.
More like age 8, says his mother, Dekiesha Matthew. But she admits she didn't immediately recognize what he was doing.
"I used to think he was tracing," she said. "I never knew he was drawing until he was sitting there and my niece was laying on the floor, and he was drawing her while she was sitting there."
Her son has entered, and won prizes in, various contests, she says. Tate says he favors human subjects, because of the complexity of shading he throws in.
"He'll come home, and he'll go to the dining room table, and he'll just draw," his mother said.
Like the night before the contest deadline.
Tate, who works 20-25 hours a week at a Dollar General and has been living with his aunt since the fire, came home at 10:45 p.m. and drew for 20 minutes.
He figures he lost about 30 works of art in the fire. He was going to forgo the USS Fort Worth contest afterward, but his art teacher, Josh Fletcher, urged him to dig in.
Tate was still working on the piece when a student came by on deadline day to pick it up, forcing him to let go.
"I wish I had a lot more time to do it," he said. "I wasn't done. I didn't think I would actually win."
What's next after this year: Tate says he wants to look into attending art institutes in Dallas or Fort Worth.
"I really want to go to college," he said. "I can do other degrees than art, in case this doesn't work out."
Scott Nishimura, 817-390-7808